The survival genre has spawned many titles over the years, ranging from challenging and terrifying to more cozy and relaxed. Wildmender from indie developer Muse Games (Guns of Icarus, Embr) undoubtedly falls into the latter camp, with a cute setting that brings its own twist; it’s not just about building a base and gathering materials, but also about cultivating a glorious garden in your own little oasis.
Starting from a tree in the middle of a vast desert, you must collect plants to grow while you explore the world, craft structures, and harness magical essence. It does include the niggly-but-trademark survival game trope of needing to maintain your food and water, but there are edible plants all over the place and from my time playing I didn’t find this a huge burden. You can even slide along the sand or float from high points, making traversal a little easier.
Wildmender doesn’t make the best first impression, but perhaps that’s intentional. Starting from almost nothing, you’ll learn the ropes craft your workbench, collect small materials to get started and begin your journey. Tutorials involve a lot of reading, and the controls are a little bit difficult to come to grips with, and the UI is clunky at first. It also has a low-budget feeling, which is even more noticeable when you’re mostly just surrounded by sand. It’s not pretty. But, chipping away at the early objectives and seeing your home base evolve has the same satisfaction you’ll get from its peers.
I wish that combat was more enjoyable, though, as it mostly feels fiddly, even when using a mirror to reflect beams into enemies in the early stages. It felt like a nuisance more than anything else, and I found myself dying (and needing to go and collect my stuff from my backpack) more often than I would have liked, especially early on when I was trying to find my bearings.
Wildmender boasts dozens of plant species to grow, along with more than 50 craftable structures and tools to build and manage your perfect garden. It also features cooperative play online for up to 4 players, which is a blessing in any survival game, allowing you to share in the busy work and exploration; one of you could be tending to the garden while the other players collect materials, explore and deal with enemies. With a procedurally generated world, if you enjoy Wildmender, you could safely lose a lot of time playing it.
While I certainly haven’t put in the 50 hours recommended for the main campaign, I can see that much like the gardening involved, if you spend some time on Wildmender, it’ll likely grow into something far more interesting.
Wildmender is available now on Xbox, PlayStation and PC.